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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Brooks E. Miner
ENVIR 450
Seattle Campus

Special Topics in Environmental Studies

Format may range from seminar/discussion to formal lectures to laboratory or modeling work.

Class description

This course description is for ENVIR 450B, Spring 2009. Course title: Alaska Comes of Age: Politics, economics, and environment in 20th century Alaska.

For more information, please visit the course website.

As one of the last regions of the United States to be settled by European descendants, the so-called “Last Frontier” of Alaska occupies a hallowed place in our national psyche. Alaska has always represented the American West in its purest form, but in recent decades it has become an archetypal battleground in the environmental conservation movement. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood and 30 years after oil started flowing through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, we will undertake an integrative examination of 20th century Alaska from an interdisciplinary perspective. We will focus on how the actions of economic developers, grassroots citizen organizations, and state and federal governments led to transformations in the relationship between people and the lands and waters they inhabit. Students will reflect on their personal background and draw connections with the Alaskan experience to deepen their understanding of both their own and our society’s relationship with the natural world. Twentieth century Alaska will serve as a case study for the American environmental legacy, allowing students to grapple with challenging questions about our nation’s future in the context of a landscape that has both sustained and transformed American ideals.

Topics to be covered will include:

- Global conflicts manifest in Alaska: WWII and the Cold War
- The atomic age in Alaska: nuclear weapons testing and Project Chariot
- Native rights in Alaska: the historic settlement act and its discontents
- The oil age in Alaska: Prudhoe Bay and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline
- The timber age in Alaska: Tongass National Forest
- The modern environmental movement in America: Alaska’s central role

Student learning goals

Identify and describe the major forces that shaped modern Alaska, and highlight instances in which these forces were representative of broader trends in American history or were, in contrast, unique to Alaska.

Identify and describe critical junctures in Alaska’s environmental history and assign responsibility (blame or credit, depending on circumstances) to the entities that directed the path of history at such junctures. Evaluate the degree to which the results of such junctures were predetermined or depended on the actions of major players at the time.

Describe instances in Alaska’s history when the nature of the American political system led to either environmental preservation or to environmental degradation, and why.

Critically evaluate competing claims about current environmental issues in Alaska and elsewhere. Develop thoughtful and convincing written arguments for or against particular positions concerning current environmental issues.

General method of instruction

This course will be primarily discussion-based, with approximately 75% of class time allocated to discussions and other participatory exercises and 25% of class time allocated to instructor lectures. The majority of the course material will be conveyed via required weekly reading assignments, which will be an essential element of the course that should not be underestimated. Students will be expected to read approximately 100 pages per week of accessible popular/secondary historical literature. Participation in class discussions will be expected.

Recommended preparation

ENVIR 200 or any other writing-intensive course.

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Brooks E. Miner
Date: 03/08/2009